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Tasia Malakasis assumes the CEO role at CO.LAB today

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Tasia Malakasis is a relatively new resident of Chattanooga, having moved to the city in January, but she’s not new to the start-up world. She cut her teeth on tech start-ups over a 15-year period in Silicon Valley and Philadelphia before one of those “you can’t make this up moments” sent Malakasis back to her native Huntsville where she spent the next 15 years scaling a goat cheese company named Belle Chevre.

Now, after a roughly 18-month sabbatical following the sale of Belle Chevre, today marks the beginning of Malakasis’ latest journey in life as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CO.LAB, Chattanooga’s entrepreneurial support organization where she succeeds Lindsey Cox who is now CEO of Launch Tennessee.

“Chattanooga was not a city I knew,” Malakasis (pictured right) told us late last week when we caught-up with the very personable serial entrepreneur who had just celebrated her first wedding anniversary on July 4 and was moving the next day to a new townhome on the city’s Southside. “Chattanooga was the city I drove through to get to Atlanta.”

After selling Belle Chevre and getting her son off to college, she and her husband decided to take what Malakasis described as a “gap year” with plans to visit foreign countries. Those plans were disrupted by the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, so they relocated to Chattanooga where she discovered the vibrancy of the ecosystem and the walkability of the downtown area.

“I don’t recall how I heard about CO.LAB and the CEO opening,” Malakasis told us, but did recall walking on several occasions by the Edney Innovation Center, where CO.LAB is located, and wondering about what was happening inside the building. When she heard about the CEO opening, Malakasis called Cox to talk about the position and opportunity.

“The more I dug in, the more I was impressed,” she said, citing everything from the national visibility that Chattanooga has garnered to the number of people who are engaged in the success of CO.LAB. She also praised the “thoughtful and well-organized interview process” and ultimately decided “there was nothing I’d rather do.”

While she did a good deal of due diligence before deciding to accept the offer to become CO.LAB’s fifth CEO, Malakasis says she has just scratched the surface in learning about the city. “I feel like I’m still discovering Chattanooga,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of talking and listening,” but acknowledges there’s much more to be done.

Malakasis explains where her early emphasis will be with a series of questions: “Who exactly does CO.LAB want to be when it grows up? What do we want to create and be? How do we become the very best? I start with the end in mind, then work back.”

That philosophy is probably best captured in this core belief: Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. As such, Malakasis believes in being laser-focused.

“I’m going into this role as an explorer,” she adds. “I’m a storyteller and brand and product creator.” Those are skills she learned and later enhanced during various roles over the years.

Malakasis graduated from the University of Alabama at Huntsville with a degree in English literature and a plan to leave Alabama which she did for the next 15 years, working in the Internet tech space. One start-up that she sold was acquired by Gannett, and Malakasis travelled the country training employees of the media company on how to sell online advertising in the early days of that transformation.

It was a job, but she confronted the fact that what made her most happy was being in the kitchen. That acknowledgement led to enrolling at the Culinary Institute of America where Malakasis discovered that she did not want to be a chef. Ironically, it was during that period that she wandered into a Dean & DeLuca gourmet shop in Manhattan where she found a package of Fromagerie Belle Chevre goat cheese made in Elkmont, AL.

“It was a cool product, but I was still in my phase of getting out of Alabama,” Malakasis said. However, she kept thinking about the cheese company and her passion for food. In 2007, she acquired the business after working for free at the company for six months.

“My goal was to take the business acumen I had garnered, rebrand the company, and focus on distribution,” Malakasis said. When she sold Belle Chevre 15 years later, it had grown from being carried in about 20 stores to 2,400.

In the news release announcing her hiring, she said, “As a serial entrepreneur, there is nothing more exciting to me than the potential for rapid-fire growth and expansion. And I cannot think of a more opportune time to be involved with all of the excitement brimming in Chattanooga for start-ups.”

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